Guerande, July, 1838.
To Madame la Duchesse de Grandlieu:
Ah, my dear mamma! at the end of three months to know what it is to be jealous! My heart completes its experience; I now feel the deepest hatred and the deepest love! I am more than betrayed — I am not loved. How fortunate for me to have a mother, a heart on which to cry out as I will!
It is enough to say to wives who are still half girls: “Here’s a key rusty with memories among those of your palace; go everywhere, enjoy everything, but keep away from Les Touches!” to make us eager to go there hot-foot, our eyes shining with the curiosity of Eve. What a root of bitterness Mademoiselle des Touches planted in my love! Why did she forbid me to go to Les Touches? What sort of happiness is mine if it depends on an excursion, on a visit to a paltry house in Brittany? Why should I fear? Is there anything to fear? Add to this reasoning of Mrs. Blue–Beard the desire that nips all women to know if their power is solid or precarious, and you’ll understand how it was that I said one day, with an unconcerned little air:—
“What sort of place is Les Touches?”
“Les Touches belongs to you,” said my divine, dear mother-inlaw.
“If Calyste had never set foot in Les Touches!”— cried my aunt Zephirine, shaking her head.
“He would not be my husband,” I added.
“Then you know what happened there?” said my mother-inlaw, slyly.
“It is a place of perdition!” exclaimed Mademoiselle de Pen–Hoel. “Mademoiselle des Touches committed many sins there, for which she is now asking the pardon of God.”
“But they saved the soul of that noble woman, and made the fortune of a convent,” cried the Chevalier du Halga. “The Abbe Grimont told me she had given a hundred thousand francs to the nuns of the Visitation.”
“Should you like to go to Les Touches?” asked my mother-inlaw. “It is worth seeing.”
“No, no!” I said hastily.
Doesn’t this little scene read to you like a page out of some diabolical drama?
It was repeated again and again under various pretexts. At last my mother-inlaw said to me: “I understand why you do not go to Les Touches, and I think you are right.”
Oh! you must admit, mamma, that an involuntary, unconscious stab like that would have decided you to find out if your happiness rested on such a frail foundation that it would perish at a mere touch. To do Calyste justice, he never proposed to me to visit that hermitage, now his property. But as soon as we love we are creatures devoid of common-sense, and this silence, this reserve piqued me; so I said to him one day: “What are you afraid of at Les Touches, that you alone never speak of the place?”
“Let us go there,” he replied.
So there I was caught — like other women who want to be caught, and who trust to chance to cut the Gordian knot of their indecision. So to Les Touches we went.
It is enchanting, in a style profoundly artistic. I took delight in that place of horror where Mademoiselle des Touches had so earnestly forbidden me to go. Poisonous flowers are all charming; Satan sowed them — for the devil has flowers as well as God; we have only to look within our souls to see the two shared in the making of us. What delicious acrity in a situation where I played, not with fire, but — with ashes! I studied Calyste; the point was to know if that passion was thoroughly extinct. I watched, as you may well believe, every wind that blew; I kept an eye upon his face as he went from room to room and from one piece of furniture to another, exactly like a child who is looking for some hidden thing. Calyste seemed thoughtful, but at first I thought that I had vanquished the past. I felt strong enough to mention Madame de Rochefide-whom in my heart I called la Rocheperfide. At last we went to see the famous bush were Beatrix was caught when he flung her into the sea that she might never belong to another man.
“She must be light indeed to have stayed there,” I said laughing. Calyste kept silence, so I added, “We’ll respect the dead.”
Still Calyste was silent.
“Have I displeased you?” I asked.
“No; but cease to galvanize that passion,” he answered.
What a speech! Calyste, when he saw me all cast down by it, redoubled his care and tenderness.
I was, alas! at the edge of a precipice, amusing myself, like the innocent heroines of all melodramas, by gathering flowers. Suddenly a horrible thought rode full tilt through my happiness, like the horse in the German ballad. I thought I saw that Calyste’s love was increasing through his reminiscences; that he was expending on me the stormy emotions I revived by reminding him of the coquetries of that hateful Beatrix — just think of it! that cold, unhealthy nature, so persistent yet so flabby, something between a mollusk and a bit of coral, dares to call itself Beatrix, Beatrice!
Already, dearest mother, I am forced to keep one eye open to suspicion, when my heart is all Calyste’s; and isn’t it a great catastrophe when the eye gets the better of the heart, and suspicion at last finds itself justified? It came to pass in this way:—
“This place is dear to me,” I said to Calyste one morning, “because I owe my happiness to it; and so I forgive you for taking me sometimes for another woman.”
The loyal Breton blushed, and I threw my arms around his neck. But all the same I have left Les Touches, and never will I go back there again.
The very strength of hatred which makes me long for Madame de Rochefide’s death — ah, heavens! a natural death, pleurisy, or some accident — makes me also understand to its fullest extent the power of my love for Calyste. That woman has appeared to me to trouble my sleep — I see her in a dream; shall I ever encounter her bodily? Ah! the postulant of the Visitation was right — Les Touches is a fatal spot; Calyste has there recovered his past emotions, and they are, I see it plainly, more powerful than the joys of our love. Ascertain, my dear mamma, if Madame de Rochefide is in Paris, for if she is, I shall stay in Brittany. Poor Mademoiselle des Touches might well repent of her share in our marriage if she knew to what extent I am taken for our odious rival! But this is prostitution! I am not myself; I am ashamed of it all. A frantic desire seizes me sometimes to fly from Guerande and those sands of Croisic.
I am determined to go and live in the ruins of the old chateau. Calyste, worried by my restlessness, agrees to take me. Either he knows life so little that he guesses nothing, or he does know the cause of my flight, in which case he cannot love me. I tremble so with fear lest I find the awful certainty I seek that, like a child, I put my hands before my eyes not to hear the explosion —
Oh, mother! I am not loved with the love that I feel in my heart. Calyste is charming to me, that’s true! but what man, unless he were a monster, would not be, as Calyste is, amiable and gracious when receiving all the flowers of the soul of a young girl of twenty, brought up by you, pure, loving, and beautiful, as many women have said to you that I am.
Guenic, September 18.
Has he forgotten her? That’s the solitary thought which echoes through my soul like a remorse. Ah! dear mamma, have all women to struggle against memories as I do? None but innocent young men should be married to pure young girls. But that’s a deceptive Utopia; better have one’s rival in the past than in the future.
Ah! mother, pity me, though at this moment I am happy as a woman who fears to lose her happiness and so clings fast to it — one way of killing it, says that profoundly wise Clotilde.
I notice that for the last five months I think only of myself, that is, of Calyste. Tell sister Clotilde that her melancholy bits of wisdom often recur to me. She is happy in being faithful to the dead; she fears no rival. A kiss to my dear Athenais, about whom I see Juste is beside himself. From what you told me in your last letter it is evident he fears you will not give her to him. Cultivate that fear as a precious product. Athenais will be sovereign lady; but I who fear lest I can never win Calyste back from himself shall always be a servant.
A thousand tendernesses, dear mamma. Ah! if my terrors are not delusions, Camille Maupin has sold me her fortune dearly. My affectionate respects to papa.
These letters give a perfect explanation of the secret relation between husband and wife. Sabine thought of a love marriage where Calyste saw only a marriage of expediency. The joys of the honey-moon had not altogether conformed to the legal requirements of the social system.
During the stay of the married pair in Brittany the work of restoring and furnishing the hotel du Guenic had been carried on by the celebrated architect Grindot, under the superintendence of Clotilde and the Duc and Duchesse de Grandlieu, all arrangements having been made for the return of the young household to Paris in December, 1838. Sabine installed herself in the rue de Bourbon with pleasure — less for the satisfaction of playing mistress of a great household than for that of knowing what her family would think of her marriage.
Calyste, with easy indifference, was quite willing to let his sister-inlaw Clotilde and his mother-inlaw the duchess guide him in all matters of social life, and they were both very grateful for his obedience. He obtained the place in society which was due to his name, his fortune, and his alliance. The success of his wife, who was regarded as one of the most charming women in Paris, the diversions of high society, the duties to be fulfilled, the winter amusements of the great city, gave a certain fresh life to the happiness of the young household by producing a series of excitements and interludes. Sabine, considered happy by her mother and sister, who saw in Calyste’s coolness an effect of his English education, cast aside her gloomy notions; she heard her lot so envied by many unhappily married women that she drove her terrors from her into the region of chimeras, until the time when her pregnancy gave additional guarantees to this neutral sort of union, guarantees which are usually augured well of by experienced women. In October, 1839, the young Baronne du Guenic had a son, and committed the mistake of nursing it herself, on the theory of most women in such cases. How is it possible, they think, not to be wholly the mother of the child of an idolized husband?
Toward the end of the following summer, in August, 1840, Sabine had nearly reached the period when the duty of nursing her first child would come to an end. Calyste, during his two years’ residence in Paris, had completely thrown off that innocence of mind the charm of which had so adorned his earliest appearance in the world of passion. He was now the comrade of the young Duc Georges de Maufrigneuse, lately married, like himself, to an heiress, Berthe de Cinq–Cygne; of the Vicomte Savinien de Portenduere, the Duc and Duchesse de Rhetore, the Duc and Duchesse de Lenoncourt–Chaulieu, and all the habitues of his mother-inlaw’s salon; and he fully understood by this time the differences that separated Parisian life from the life of the provinces. Wealth has fatal hours, hours of leisure and idleness, which Paris knows better than all other capitals how to amuse, charm, and divert. Contact with those young husbands who deserted the noblest and sweetest of creatures for the delights of a cigar and whist, for the glorious conversations of a club, or the excitements of “the turf,” undermined before long many of the domestic virtues of the young Breton noble. The motherly solicitude of a wife who is anxious not to weary her husband always comes to the support of the dissipations of young men. A wife is proud to see her husband return to her when she has allowed him full liberty of action.
One evening, on October of that year, to escape the crying of the newly weaned child, Calyste, on whose forehead Sabine could not endure to see a frown, went, urged by her, to the Varietes, where a new play was to be given for the first time. The footman whose business it was to engage a stall had taken it quite near to that part of the theatre which is called the avant-scene. As Calyste looked about him during the first interlude, he saw in one of the two proscenium boxes on his side, and not ten steps from him, Madame de Rochefide. Beatrix in Paris! Beatrix in public! The two thoughts flew through Calyste’s heart like arrows. To see her again after nearly three years! How shall we depict the convulsion in the soul of this lover, who, far from forgetting the past, had sometimes substituted Beatrix for his wife so plainly that his wife had perceived it? Beatrix was light, life, motion, and the Unknown. Sabine was duty, dulness, and the expected. One became, in a moment, pleasure; the other, weariness. It was the falling of a thunderbolt.
From a sense of loyalty, the first thought of Sabine’s husband was to leave the theatre. As he left the door of the orchestra stalls, he saw the door of the proscenium box half-open, and his feet took him there in spite of his will. The young Breton found Beatrix between two very distinguished men, Canalis and Raoul Nathan, a statesman and a man of letters. In the three years since Calyste had seen her, Madame de Rochefide was amazingly changed; and yet, although the transformation had seriously affected her as a woman, she was only the more poetic and the more attractive to Calyste. Until the age of thirty the pretty women of Paris ask nothing more of their toilet than clothing; but after they pass through the fatal portal of the thirties, they look for weapons, seductions, embellishments among their chiffons; out of these they compose charms, they find means, they take a style, they seize youth, they study the slightest accessory — in a word, they pass from nature to art.
Madame de Rochefide had just come through the vicissitudes of a drama which, in this history of the manners and morals of France in the nineteenth century may be called that of the Deserted Woman. Deserted by Conti, she became, naturally, a great artist in dress, in coquetry, in artificial flowers of all kinds.
“Why is Conti not here?” inquired Calyste in a low voice of Canalis, after going through the commonplace civilities with which even the most solemn interviews begin when they take place publicly.
The former great poet of the faubourg Saint–Germain, twice a cabinet minister, and now for the fourth time an orator in the Chamber, and aspiring to another ministry, laid a warning finger significantly on his lip. That gesture explained everything.
“I am happy to see you,” said Beatrix, demurely. “I said to myself when I recognized you just now, before you saw me, that you at least would not disown me. Ah! my Calyste,” she added in a whisper, “why did you marry? — and with such a little fool!”
As soon as a woman whispers in the ear of a new-comer and makes him sit beside her, men of the world find an immediate excuse for leaving the pair alone together.
“Come, Nathan,” said Canalis, “Madame la marquise will, I am sure, allow me to go and say a word to d’Arthez, whom I see over there with the Princesse de Cadignan; it relates to some business in the Chamber tomorrow.”
This well-bred departure gave Calyste time to recover from the shock he had just received; but he nearly lost both his strength and his senses once more, as he inhaled the perfume, to him entrancing though venomous, of the poem composed by Beatrix. Madame de Rochefide, now become bony and gaunt, her complexion faded and almost discolored, her eyes hollow with deep circles, had that evening brightened those premature ruins by the cleverest contrivances of the article Paris. She had taken it into her head, like other deserted women, to assume a virgin air, and recall by clouds of white material the maidens of Ossian, so poetically painted by Girodet. Her fair hair draped her elongated face with a mass of curls, among which rippled the rays of the foot-lights attracted by the shining of a perfumed oil. Her white brow sparkled. She had applied an imperceptible tinge of rouge to her cheeks, upon the faded whiteness of a skin revived by bran and water. A scarf so delicate in texture that it made one doubt if human fingers could have fabricated such gossamer, was wound about her throat to diminish its length, and partly conceal it; leaving imperfectly visible the treasures of the bust which were cleverly enclosed in a corset. Her figure was indeed a masterpiece of composition.
As for her pose, one word will suffice — it was worthy of the pains she had taken to arrange it. Her arms, now thin and hard, were scarcely visible within the puffings of her very large sleeves. She presented that mixture of false glitter and brilliant fabrics, of silken gauze and craped hair, of vivacity, calmness, and motion which goes by the term of the Je ne sais quoi. Everybody knows in what that consists, namely: great cleverness, some taste, and a certain composure of manner. Beatrix might now be called a decorative scenic effect, changed at will, and wonderfully manipulated. The presentation of this fairy effect, to which is added clever dialogue, turns the heads of men who are endowed by nature with frankness, until they become possessed, through the law of contrasts, by a frantic desire to play with artifice. It is false, though enticing; a pretence, but agreeable; and certain men adore women who play at seduction as others do at cards. And this is why: The desire of the man is a syllogism which draws conclusions from this external science as to the secret promises of pleasure. The inner consciousness says, without words: “A woman who can, as it were, create herself beautiful must have many other resources for love.” And that is true. Deserted women are usually those who merely love; those who retain love know the art of loving. Now, though her Italian lesson had very cruelly maltreated the self-love and vanity of Madame de Rochefide, her nature was too instinctively artificial not to profit by it.
“It is not a question of loving a man,” she was saying a few moments before Calyste had entered her box; “we must tease and harass him if we want to keep him. That’s the secret of all those women who seek to retain you men. The dragons who guard treasures are always armed with claws and wings.”
“I shall make a sonnet on that thought,” replied Canalis at the very moment when Calyste entered the box.
With a single glance Beatrix divined the state of Calyste’s heart; she saw the marks of the collar she had put upon him at Les Touches, still fresh and red. Calyste, however, wounded by the speech made to him about his wife, hesitated between his dignity as a husband, Sabine’s defence, and a harsh word cast upon a heart which held such memories for him, a heart which he believed to be bleeding. The marquise observed his hesitation; she had made that speech expressly that she might know how far her empire over Calyste still extended. Seeing his weakness, she came at once to his succor to relieve his embarrassment.
“Well, dear friend, you find me alone,” she said, as soon as the two gentlemen had left the box — “yes, alone in the world!”
“You forget me!” said Calyste.
“You!” she replied, “but you are married. That was one of my griefs, among the many I have endured since I saw you last. Not only — I said to myself — do I lose love, but I have lost a friendship which I thought was Breton. Alas! we can make ourselves bear everything. Now I suffer less, but I am broken, exhausted! This is the first outpouring of my heart for a long, long time. Obliged to seem proud before indifferent persons, and arrogant as if I had never fallen in presence of those who pay court to me, and having lost my dear Felicite, there was no ear into which I could cast the words, I suffer! But to you I can tell the anguish I endured on seeing you just now so near to me. Yes,” she said, replying to a gesture of Calyste’s, “it is almost fidelity. That is how it is with misery; a look, a visit, a mere nothing is everything to us. Ah! you once loved me — you — as I deserved to be loved by him who has taken pleasure in trampling under foot the treasures I poured out upon him. And yet, to my sorrow, I cannot forget; I love, and I desire to be faithful to a past that can never return.”
Having uttered this tirade, improvised for the hundredth time, she played the pupils of her eyes in a way to double the effect of her words, which seemed to be dragged from the depths of her soul by the violence of a torrent long restrained. Calyste, incapable of speech, let fall the tears that gathered in his eyes. Beatrix caught his hand and pressed it, making him turn pale.
“Thank you, Calyste, thank you, my poor child; that is how a true friend responds to the grief of his friend. We understand each other. No, don’t add another word; leave me now; people are looking at us; it might cause trouble to your wife if some one chanced to tell her that we were seen together — innocently enough, before a thousand people! There, you see I am strong; adieu —”
She wiped her eyes, making what might be called, in woman’s rhetoric, an antithesis of action.
“Let me laugh the laugh of a lost soul with the careless creatures who amuse me,” she went on. “I live among artists, writers, in short the world I knew in the salon of our poor Camille — who may indeed have acted wisely. To enrich the man we love and then to disappear saying, ‘I am too old for him!’ that is ending like the martyrs — and the best end too, if one cannot die a virgin.”
She began to laugh, as it to remove the melancholy impression she had made upon her former adorer.
“But,” said Calyste, “where can I go to see you?”
“I am hidden in the rue de Chartres opposite the Parc de Monceaux, in a little house suitable to my means; and there I cram my head with literature — but only for myself, to distract my thoughts; God keep me from the mania of literary women! Now go, leave me; I must not allow the world to talk of me; what will it not say on seeing us together! Adieu — oh! Calyste, my friend, if you stay another minute I shall burst into tears!”
Calyste withdrew, after holding out his hand to Beatrix and feeling for the second time that strange and deep sensation of a double pressure — full of seductive tingling.
“Sabine never knew how to stir my soul in that way,” was the thought that assailed him in the corridor.
During the rest of the evening the Marquise de Rochefide did not cast three straight glances at Calyste, but there were many sidelong looks which tore of the soul of the man now wholly thrown back into his first, repulsed love.
When the baron du Guenic reached home the splendor of his apartments made him think of the sort of mediocrity of which Beatrix had spoken, and he hated his wealth because it could not belong to that fallen angel. When he was told that Sabine had long been in bed he rejoiced to find himself rich in the possession of a night in which to live over his emotions. He cursed the power of divination which love had bestowed upon Sabine. When by chance a man is adored by his wife, she reads on his face as in a book; she learns every quiver of its muscles, she knows whence comes its calmness, she asks herself the reason of the slightest sadness, seeking to know if haply the cause is in herself; she studies the eyes; for her the eyes are tinted with the dominant thought — they love or they do not love. Calyste knew himself to be the object of so deep, so naive, so jealous a worship that he doubted his power to compose a cautious face that should not betray the change in his moral being.
“How shall I manage tomorrow morning?” he said to himself as he went to sleep, dreading the sort of inspection to which Sabine would have recourse. When they came together at night, and sometimes during the day, Sabine would ask him, “Do you still love me?” or, “I don’t weary you, do I?” Charming interrogations, varied according to the nature or the cleverness of women, which hide their anxieties either feigned or real.
To the surface of the noblest and purest hearts the mud and slime cast up by hurricanes must come. So on that morrow morning, Calyste, who certainly loved his child, quivered with joy on learning that Sabine feared the croup, and was watching for the cause of slight convulsions, not daring to leave her little boy. The baron made a pretext of business and went out, thus avoiding the home breakfast. He escaped as prisoners escape, happy in being afoot, and free to go by the Pont Louis XVI. and the Champs Elysees to a cafe on the boulevard where he had liked to breakfast when he was a bachelor.
What is there in love? Does Nature rebel against the social yoke? Does she need that impulse of her given life to be spontaneous, free, the dash of an impetuous torrent foaming against rocks of opposition and of coquetry, rather than a tranquil stream flowing between the two banks of the church and the legal ceremony? Has she her own designs as she secretly prepares those volcanic eruptions to which, perhaps, we owe great men?
It would be difficult to find a young man more sacredly brought up than Calyste, of purer morals, less stained by irreligion; and yet he bounded toward a woman unworthy of him, when a benign and radiant chance had given him for his wife a young creature whose beauty was truly aristocratic, whose mind was keen and delicate, a pious, loving girl, attached singly to him, of angelic sweetness, and made more tender still by love, a love that was passionate in spite of marriage, like his for Beatrix. Perhaps the noblest men retain some clay in their constitutions; the slough still pleases them. If this be so, the least imperfect human being is the woman, in spite of her faults and her want of reason. Madame de Rochefide, it must be said, amid the circle of poetic pretensions which surrounded her, and in spite of her fall, belonged to the highest nobility; she presented a nature more ethereal than slimy, and hid the courtesan she was meant to be beneath an aristocratic exterior. Therefore the above explanation does not fully account for Calyste’s strange passion.
Perhaps we ought to look for its cause in a vanity so deeply buried in the soul that moralists have not yet uncovered that side of vice. There are men, truly noble, like Calyste, handsome as Calyste, rich, distinguished, and well-bred, who tire — without their knowledge, possibly — of marriage with a nature like their own; beings whose own nobleness is not surprised or moved by nobleness in others; whom grandeur and delicacy consonant with their own does not affect; but who seek from inferior or fallen natures the seal of their own superiority — if indeed they do not openly beg for praise. Calyste found nothing to protect in Sabine, she was irreproachable; the powers thus stagnant in his heart were now to vibrate for Beatrix. If great men have played before our eyes the Saviour’s part toward the woman taken in adultery, why should ordinary men be wiser in their generation than they?
Calyste reached the hour of two o’clock living on one sentence only, “I shall see her again!”— a poem which has often paid the costs of a journey of two thousand miles. He now went with a light step to the rue de Chartres, and recognized the house at once although he had never before seen it. Once there, he stood — he, the son-inlaw of the Duc de Grandlieu, he, rich, noble as the Bourbons — at the foot of the staircase, stopped short by the interrogation of the old footman: “Monsieur’s name?” Calyste felt that he ought to leave to Beatrix her freedom of action in receiving or not receiving him; and he waited, looking into the garden, with its walls furrowed by those black and yellow lines produced by rain upon the stucco of Paris.
Madame de Rochefide, like nearly all great ladies who break their chain, had left her fortune to her husband when she fled from him; she could not beg from her tyrant. Conti and Mademoiselle des Touches had spared Beatrix all the petty worries of material life, and her mother had frequently send her considerable sums of money. Finding herself now on her own resources, she was forced to an economy that was rather severe for a woman accustomed to every luxury. She had therefore gone to the summit of the hill on which lies the Parc de Monceaux, and there she had taken refuge in a “little house” formerly belonging to a great seigneur, standing on the street, but possessed of a charming garden, the rent of which did not exceed eighteen hundred francs. Still served by an old footman, a maid, and a cook from Alencon, who were faithful to her throughout her vicissitudes, her penury, as she thought it, would have been opulence to many an ambitious bourgeoise.
Calyste went up a staircase the steps of which were well pumiced and the landings filled with flowering plants. On the first floor the old servant opened, in order to admit the baron into the apartment, a double door of red velvet with lozenges of red silk studded with gilt nails. Silk and velvet furnished the rooms through which Calyste passed. Carpets in grave colors, curtains crossing each other before the windows, portieres, in short all things within contrasted with the mean external appearance of the house, which was ill-kept by the proprietor. Calyste awaited Beatrix in a salon of sober character, where all the luxury was simple in style. This room, hung with garnet velvet heightened here and there with dead-gold silken trimmings, the floor covered with a dark red carpet, the windows resembling conservatories, with abundant flowers in the jardinieres, was lighted so faintly that Calyste could scarcely see on a mantel-shelf two cases of old celadon, between which gleamed a silver cup attributed to Benvenuto Cellini, and brought from Italy by Beatrix. The furniture of gilded wood with velvet coverings, the magnificent consoles, on one of which was a curious clock, the table with its Persian cloth, all bore testimony to former opulence, the remains of which had been well applied. On a little table Calyste saw jewelled knick-knacks, a book in course of reading, in which glittered the handle of a dagger used as a paper-cutter — symbol of criticism! Finally, on the walls, ten water-colors richly framed, each representing one of the diverse bedrooms in which Madame de Rochefide’s wandering life had led her to sojourn, gave the measure of what was surely superior impertinence.
The rustle of a silk dress announced the poor unfortunate, who appeared in a studied toilet which would certainly have told a roue that his coming was awaited. The gown, made like a wrapper to show the line of a white bosom, was of pearl-gray moire with large open sleeves, from which issued the arms covered with a second sleeve of puffed tulle, divided by straps and trimmed with lace at the wrists. The beautiful hair, which the comb held insecurely, escaped from a cap of lace and flowers.
“Already!” she said, smiling. “A lover could not have shown more eagerness. You must have secrets to tell me, have you not?”
And she posed herself gracefully on a sofa, inviting Calyste by a gesture to sit beside her. By chance (a selected chance, possibly, for women have two memories, that of angels and that of devils) Beatrix was redolent of the perfume which she used at Les Touches during her first acquaintance with Calyste. The inhaling of this scent, contact with that dress, the glance of those eyes, which in the semi-darkness gathered the light and returned it, turned Calyste’s brain. The luckless man was again impelled to that violence which had once before almost cost Beatrix her life; but this time the marquise was on the edge of a sofa, not on that of a rock; she rose to ring the bell, laying a finger on his lips. Calyste, recalled to order, controlled himself, all the more because he saw that Beatrix had no inimical intention.
“Antoine, I am not at home — for every one,” she said. “Put some wood on the fire. You see, Calyste, that I treat you as a friend,” she continued with dignity, when the old man had left the room; “therefore do not treat me as you would a mistress. I have two remarks to make to you. In the first place, I should not deny myself foolishly to any man I really loved; and secondly, I am determined to belong to no other man on earth, for I believed, Calyste, that I was loved by a species of Rizzio, whom no engagement trammelled, a man absolutely free, and you see to what that fatal confidence has led me. As for you, you are now under the yoke of the most sacred of duties; you have a young, amiable, delightful wife; moreover, you are a father. I should be, as you are, without excuse — we should be two fools —”
“My dear Beatrix, all these reasons vanish before a single word — I have never loved but you on earth, and I was married against my will.”
“Ah! a trick played upon us by Mademoiselle des Touches,” she said, smiling.
Three hours passed, during which Madame de Rochefide held Calyste to the consideration of conjugal faith, pointing out to him the horrible alternative of an utter renunciation of Sabine. Nothing else could reassure her, she said, in the dreadful situation to which Calyste’s love would reduce her. Then she affected to regard the sacrifice of Sabine as a small matter, she knew her so well!
“My dear child,” she said, “that’s a woman who fulfils all the promises of her girlhood. She is a Grandlieu, to be sure, but she’s as brown as her mother the Portuguese, not to say yellow, and as dry and stiff as her father. To tell the truth, your wife will never go wrong; she’s a big boy who can take care of herself. Poor Calyste! is that the sort of woman you needed? She has fine eyes, but such eyes are very common in Italy and in Spain and Portugal. Can any woman be tender with bones like hers. Eve was fair; brown women descend from Adam, blondes come from the hand of God, which left upon Eve his last thought after he had created her.”
About six o’clock Calyste, driven to desperation, took his hat to depart.
“Yes, go, my poor friend,” she said; “don’t give her the annoyance of dining without you.”
Calyste stayed. At his age it was so easy to snare him on his worst side.
“What! you dare to dine with me?” said Beatrix, playing a provocative amazement. “My poor food does not alarm you? Have you enough independence of soul to crown me with joy by this little proof of your affection?”
“Let me write a note to Sabine; otherwise she will wait dinner for me till nine o’clock.”
“Here,” said Beatrix, “this is the table at which I write.”
She lighted the candles herself, and took one to the table to look over what he was writing.
“My dear Sabine — ”
“‘My dear’? — can you really say that your wife is still dear to you?” she asked, looking at him with a cold eye that froze the very marrow of his bones. “Go — you had better go and dine with her.”
“I dine at a restaurant with some friends.”
“A lie. Oh, fy! you are not worthy to be loved either by her or by me. Men are all cowards in their treatment of women. Go, monsieur, go and dine with your dear Sabine.”
Calyste flung himself back in his arm-chair and became as pale as death. Bretons possess a courage of nature which makes them obstinate under difficulties. Presently the young baron sat up, put his elbow on the table, his chin in his hand, and looked at the implacable Beatrix with a flashing eye. He was so superb that a Northern or a Southern woman would have fallen at his feet saying, “Take me!” But Beatrix, born on the borders of Normandy and Brittany, belonged to the race of Casterans; desertion had developed in her the ferocity of the Frank, the spitefulness of the Norman; she wanted some terrible notoriety as a vengeance, and she yielded to no weakness.
“Dictate what I ought to write,” said the luckless man. “But, in that case —”
“Well, yes!” she said, “you shall love me then as you loved me at Guerande. Write: I dine out; do not expect me.”
“What next?” said Calyste, thinking something more would follow.
“Nothing; sign it. Good,” she said, darting on the note with restrained joy. “I will send it by a messenger.”
“And now,” cried Calyste, rising like a happy man.
“Ah! I have kept, I believe, my freedom of action,” she said, turning away from him and going to the fireplace, where she rang the bell. “Here, Antoine,” she said, when the old footman entered, “send this note to its address. Monsieur dines here.”
Last updated Wednesday, July 15, 2015 at 16:28